What I Learned About Being a Writer in 2014 - Tip #1

I learned a lot about being a writer in 2014, and over the next ten days, I’m going to share some of my tips. Here is Tip #1.

Pitching is like a game: once you treat it as something you can win, you’ll get better at it

About year ago, I was already hard at work doing the things I thought I needed to do to become a writer. One of those things had quickly become the bane of my existence: pitching. I seemed to labor hours or even days over a pitch, waiting to send it out until I knew it couldn’t possibly be improved anymore, rereading it for grammatical errors and typos so often I barely saw it anymore, hyperventilating as I hit the Send button, and then: nothing. I would wait in vain for a couple of days, biting my fingernails, chewing off my cuticles, stewing in self-doubt until this prolonged process would reach its inevitable conclusion: I would have some kind of breakdown in which I ranted and raved about my uselessness, half mad with frustration at myself and hatred for the editor who couldn’t even bother to answer my long-labored-over email. Then I would inevitably cry, rage at the world, and promise myself to stop writing for good and go on to more useful, lucrative pursuits. (Or so I thought.)

As you may have guessed, this had to stop, or I’d probably be in some kind of rehab center along with burnt out Hollywood starlets instead of writing this to you now. The change came when I went to visit an old and dear friend, a radio journalist who has been around the world in the last few years, collecting fascinating stories, people, and experiences that all add up to her doing her job well. I came upon her the morning after my arrival bent in front of the computer with a recorder on one side, a notebook on the other, and a phone in her hand. She was trying to make what must have been her tenth call of the week to a policeman in a nearby town who refused to answer her questions about racism against Hispanics in the police force. I decided to ask her about pitching. After all, she had been assigned these stories; there must have been an editor at the other end, ready and willing to take her on as a reporter, and that meant there must have been a pitch somewhere in between.

“Oh, I love pitching!” she exclaimed. “It’s my favorite part!” I probably looked at her like she had just grown a second head. She went on to explain that she enjoys the back and forth of figuring out a story, then rooting out a media outlet that would be a good fit for it or finding a radio station she would love to work with, then looking through her back burner to figure out what idea might make their ears perk up. I wasn’t sure I agreed with all of it, but I had to admit one thing: thinking of pitching as a game you have to learn the rules to—and then begin to win at—was far preferable to the way I’d been handling things.